Russia’s Maritime Security In Light of the War in Ukraine

By Alex Thomas, MALD 2023 Candidate, The Fletcher School

On July 31, 2022, against the backdrop of a naval parade in Saint Petersburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave an impassioned speech in which he unveiled the newest iteration of Russia’s Maritime Doctrine. In it, Putin outlined the context and priorities for Russia’s maritime activities: inevitable strategic competition with the United States and NATO in the oceans, the preservation of Russia’s status as a great maritime power, and the maintenance of maritime stability in the renewed era of great power competition with the West. 

The Russia and Eurasia Program at the Fletcher School co-hosted a panel with the Fletcher Maritime Studies Program to help demystify Russia’s changing relationship with the world’s oceans on December 5, 2022, as Russia’s war against Ukraine had escalated greatly in the preceding months. Chaired by Professor Rockford Weitz, Director of the Maritime Studies Program at Fletcher, the discussion centered around topics including the Russian navy, commercial fishing, maritime transport, the law of the sea, and general maritime security concerns in the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, the Arctic, and the Pacific. 

The first panelist was Arctic expert Andrey Todorov, a visiting scholar at The Fletcher School who researches the legal status and regime of navigation in the waters of the Northern Sea Route. The second panelist was Pavel Luzin, also a visiting scholar at The Fletcher School, whose research pertains to Russia’s foreign policy and defense, space policy, and global security issues. The final panelist was Volodymyr Dubovyk, a visiting professor, director of the Center for International Studies at Odesa National University in Ukraine, and an expert on Black Sea regional security and Ukrainian foreign policy and security. 

After introducing the panelists, Weitz gave an overview of the maritime areas salient to  Russia. Specifically, he spoke about the different methods that Russia employs to pursue its maritime interests within the law of the sea, as well as the effects of climate change on Russia’s remilitarization of the arctic. 

Following Weitz’s remarks, the discussion dove into greater detail about Russia’s relationship with the Arctic. Visiting scholar Andrei Todorov spelled out Russia’s key interests and activities in the Arctic, and explained how Western sanctions have not affected the viability of the Northern Sea Route for Russian oil tankers. Todorov further commented on how the Russian Northern Fleet could become engaged in the war with Ukraine in the future. However, this prospect remains unlikely because of the key role the fleet plays in protecting Russia’s strategic nuclear forces.

Visiting scholar Pavel Luzin then spoke about Russia’s major investment in modernizing its Pacific Naval Fleet. Luzin argued that this modernization effort is paramount for Russian military strategists due to the high value they place on securing the Sea of Okhotsk. He gave a historical overview of the strategic role that the Baltic Fleet played during the Cold War, and how this importance fell as the likelihood of war in Europe declined dramatically following the collapse of the USSR. Luzin concluded by outlining how the ascension of Sweden and Finland to NATO could further curtail the utility of the Baltic Fleet, as Russia’s access to the open sea would then be blocked in the event of a Russia-NATO conflict. 

Finally, visiting Professor Volodymyr Dubovyk spoke about Russia’s relationship with the Black Sea. Historically, Professor Dubovyk argued, the Black Sea has played a significant strategic and cultural role within Russian society. As Russia’s only access to a warm water port, securing control over Crimea in 2014 and thus access to the Black Sea was a key foreign policy goal for Russia. He further highlighted how Crimea’s integration into Russia signifies a watershed moment for security in the region, as Russia has proclaimed its willingness to defend Crimea as its own territory since 2014. 

As Russia’s war in Ukraine continues with no apparent end in sight, the importance of understanding Russia’s maritime relationship with the Arctic, the Baltic Sea, and the Black Sea has increased dramatically. While Russia’s desire to gain a conventional maritime advantage is evident in its 2022 Maritime Doctrine, the panelists agreed that Russia’s dream of gaining any maritime dominance over the West will not be achievable in reality.


Leave a Reply